How do inversion tables work (An insiders look)?

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So, how do inversion tables work? Well, I hope to answer that question for you. I have used inversion tables over the past 15 or so years to help with my back pain. I can tell you I have had good experiences using inversion tables.

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My goal with this post is to help explain what an inversion table is and how it works. If you have heard of inversion tables, or are looking for more information, please keep reading. I will do my best to explain and tell you about my experience.

I have been using inversion tables for a number of years have had pretty good success with them. I have owned both new and used tables.  Inversion therapy has been a recovery and maintenance tool for me. I invert for a few minutes each day and that helps keep the back pain somewhat at bay.

There are a number of different reasons people use inversion tables; reduce back pain, reduce stress, improve circulation, just to name a few. This article by explains some benefits of an inversion table.

A word of advice

Before I get too far into this, I would recommend working with a healthcare professional when it comes to inverting. I have had a lot of success, but my chiropractor walked me through it step-by-step. There are differing opinions on inversion, but I will tell you when I did it correctly, it certainly helped me.

I own a Teeter FitSpine X3 Inversion Table, so the instructions here will be based on that particular table. Although there definitely should be similarities to other brands as well.

Adjustments to inversion table

There are several adjustments you will need to make before you start using an inversion table. You will need to make sure the table is properly balanced and responsive (I discuss this below). The first adjustment will be to move the boom to correspond to your height. The boom is the center pole, which runs along the back of the table bed. The boom should be clearly marked with different heights.

My table is adjustable for people 4’8” all the way up to 6’6”. On my table, there is a pin on one side of the boom, and a knob on the other side of the boom. I have to unscrew the knob and pull the pin out, so I can set the table at the desired height.

The pin fits into a hole and the knob can then be screwed down tight to hold the proper height selection. I am 6 feet 1/2 inch tall (but who is counting). I have the table set to a height of 6’1” and this works for me.

Pivot Arms or Roller Hinges

You will also need to adjust the pivot arms or roller hinges. These hinges will allow for full inversion and more or less responsiveness to the table. My table has 3 sets of holes, and each hole allows for more or less response. I typically use the middle hole as that is what is best for me.

Strap it down!

There is a strap that will attach to the boom and to the inversion table frame. This will help you determine the angle of inversion. You will need to adjust this before you invert as well. This is what keeps you from going fully inverted, so this is a critical step.

Ankle cups are critical

If you are not familiar with inversion tables, the premise involves hanging either completely upside down, or at an angle. With an inversion table, you start in the upright position. You slide your feet onto the in-step platform. There are front and rear ankle cups that are designed to fit around the smallest part of your ankle.

These ankle cups are critical, as they will help to keep you in place as you flip upside down. The ankle cups can be adjusted to form a nice secure fit around your ankles. You don’t want them to be too tight, or this will be very uncomfortable and can cut off circulation!

You will want to adjust the ankle cups to a fit that is secure yet comfortable. As you invert, you will definitely get a feel for what works for you.

The responsiveness test

I have mentioned the word “responsiveness” a couple of times. What this means is how easily the inversion table bed will respond to your arm movements. You want the inversion table to be properly balanced so it will respond when you move your arms. These tables are very touchy.

When you lay back on the table, with arms folded across your chest, you want the inversion table to start to recline. You should be able to move back to the desired angle of inversion by just moving your arms overhead. That is what is meant by responsiveness.

If the table is not set to the proper height and is not balanced, you will not be able to move freely. This can cause a problem when you are inverted and can’t get back up.

The first time or so that you use the inversion table, you really should use a spotter, so you can get the responsiveness just right. When you are laying on the table bed with arm folded and the table doesn’t move, you need to shorten the height by one inch.

Vice versa, if you lean back and the table starts to invert without you using your arms overhead, you need to lengthen the height by one inch. Again, you should be able to move freely with just arm movements.

You become Plastic Man!

Once you are inverted, your body will become stretched, or elongated. If you are having an issue coming back fully upright, you can slightly bend your knees and this will help you to get back where you started.

Again, it is really important to have the height adjusted accordingly, so you aren’t hanging upside down screaming for someone to help you up. This can also become an issue if you have dogs, as you will not have any defense when they savagely lick your face. Speaking from experience here!

You will also need to determine what angle you are going to invert. You can invert fully, but I would not recommend this for starters. When I was dealing with recovering from my back injury in 2015, I was only able to start out inverting about 20 degrees.

For about 6-8 weeks, dealing with spinal stenosis, I was not able to lay down flat on my back, so I couldn’t use the inversion table until I got to a certain point in my recovery. I slowly, over the course of weeks, was able to get to about 60 degrees.

For me, inverting was a very gradual process. I worked hand in hand with my chiropractor and followed his instructions so I wouldn’t injure myself further. Once I was able to invert, I definitely got some much-needed relief.

What does this all mean?

You may have heard of the discs in your spine referred to as shock absorbers. The discs are filled with fluid which helps prevent the vertebrae from grinding. Insufficient space between the vertebrae can cause pain. Gravity, muscle imbalance, injury can cause the discs to compress. With inversion, even a little bit of increase in spacing can allow relief to the compressed disc.

Fluid can also build up in the discs, causing inflammation. When I use my inversion table, I will invert for about 30 seconds, then come back up to horizontal with the floor for 30 seconds. I do this for about 10 minutes. This helps to milk the built-up fluid out of the discs. I have also been known to fall asleep in the inverted position, for me, it’s just so darn relaxing.

Be careful

One thing to remember, “No pain, no gain” does not apply when using an inversion table. If you feel pain or discomfort you should stop. There are benefits of using inversion tables, but there are circumstances when you should not be using them. This is why you should discuss inversion with your healthcare provider before beginning.

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